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Phillies notes: Plesac plays on
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03/29/2003  7:30 PM ET 
Phillies notes: Plesac plays on
Pitcher still has fire for title
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Dan Plesac's younger teammates have been kidding him over images like this. (AP)
TAMPA, Fla. -- The jokes about him being old are almost as old as the man himself, but that doesn't stop players from making fun of grandpa Dan Plesac.

"Every time Randy Wolf or David Coggin see me on ESPN Classic -- the 1987 All-Star Game or something -- I hear about the it next day. They do anything they can to make me feel old."

"Hey, we see those black and white games and he's in his fifth year in the big leagues," said Wolf, "pitching against Honus Wagner."

"Ha ha," Plesac might say, before pointing out that Wagner -- who retired in 1917 -- died nearly seven years before Plesac was born. Still it should be noted that the lefty debuted with the Milwaukee Brewers, who were then an American League team, in 1986, the same year as New Coke. The lefty is still pitching at 41.

The odds of Plesac returning for an 18th season seemed long as the 2002 season ended. Upset at not having been traded to a contender by the Blue Jays at first, then the Phillies, Plesac returned to his home in Valparaiso, Ind., and didn't think about picking up a ball.

Between spending time with his two daughters and the horses he raises, he fielded holiday calls from the Phillies about whether the fire still burned. Assistant Ruben Amaro Jr. called around Halloween and general manager Ed Wade phoned around Thanksgiving. Neither got a definitive yes from Plesac.

Plesac got hungry when David Bell signed and was downright famished watching Jim Thome's press conference a week later. Before sprinting from the retirement home, he dialed manager Larry Bowa.

"I asked him if he wanted me to come back and play and he said, 'Of course I do,'" Plesac said. "I called back Ed Wade and said 'Let's do it.'

  Dan Plesac   /   P
Height: 6'5"
Weight: 217
Bats/Throws: L/L

More info:
Player page
Stats
Splits
phillies.com

"I'm so glad I decided to come back. The whole complexion of this team has taken a complete 180-degree turnaround. There's excitement here. You're talking about core players who are ready to win. I saw that the first day at the minor league complex."

That day, Plesac said he was going to play "10 more years," and seemed genuine. He won't play that long, but his passion for a championship forced him to come back. Shortly after agreeing to a one-year deal for $2 million, Plesac began working out. He started throwing in January.

The rigors of the extra throwing wore on the veteran -- as he tried to keep up with the kids like Wolf and Coggin -- but now he feels caught up.

"It's awesome," said Wolf. "He's such a great guy to talk to about pitching and baseball in general. He's got so much knowledge because he's been around so long."

Deciding against making another "old" joke, Wolf added, "If you're around him for five minutes, you'll know he's just a good guy. He's contagious. He's funny and keeps everything light."

More than that, Plesac still gets lefties out, which is exactly what Bowa needs him to do.

"I wouldn't be here if I didn't feel that I could help this team," said Plesac. "It would be a waste of my time. The fire still burns. I know that this city is dying for something to root for. We feel when you put this red uniform on, there's some pride here."

With that, he grabbed the 2002 Phillies Media Guide, flipped to page 270, and stared at his picture for a few seconds.

"I look a lot older," he said. "There are guys in here that were playing T-ball when I was pitching in the big leagues."

Injury update: Tyler Houston tested his sore rib cage at the minor-league complex Saturday morning and proclaimed himself ready for the season. Eric Valent was returned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and the Phillies Opening Day roster is set.

After taking swings at the complex, Houston arrived at Legends Field and took over at first base for Thome. He went 0-for-2 for the day.

  Tyler Houston   /   3B
Height: 6'1"
Weight: 218
Bats/Throws: L/R

More info:
Stats
Splits
Hit chart
Yankees site

While the news on Houston was good, Bowa said he isn't counting on an April return for Turk Wendell. The reliever is throwing again after having a setback in his return from elbow surgery that cost him the 2002 season.

"I really don't think he can join us until he goes back-to-back days and feels good," said Bowa. "It's very hard to set up a bullpen where you throw him one day and the next day you can't post up. I don't think it would be too smart to bring a guy like him up in April when the weather's cold."

As for Michaels, who's eligible to come off the disabled list on April 6 and is scheduled to swing at the complex on Tuesday, Bowa said there's no rush.

"I would say he won't be back the sixth," Bowa said. "If [his strained oblique muscle] is OK, we want him to go to Triple-A. If he gets 25 or 30 at-bats and nothing is wrong, and he's swinging the bat decent, we might make a move. I don't think there's a date set where he's got to be here."

complete coverage: spring training 2003
Just in case: The message scribbled on the end of the bat read, "If you need to hit something, use this" and it was signed, "Nick Johnson."

Johnson sent the "gift" to his Uncle Larry, known to most as Larry Bowa, manager of the Phillies.

"I thought it would be good if I sent it over to him, so at some point during the year if he needs to let loose, he can go right ahead," said Johnson, who is likely aware of his uncle's need to vent. "I don't think it will last all year. It might not last until the All-Star break."

Reminded about the team's 9-18 start last April, Johnson reconsidered.

"Then it might be shattered."

Johnson, who shattered a bat himself on a Padilla fastball, has a request should/when Bowa need the 34-inch, 31-ounce lumber.

"Keep it at the field," he said. "If he takes it home and starts breaking stuff, my aunt won't be too happy."

Skipper speaks: On the team's offense as camp winds down: "Over the past four or five games, I'm worried about the swings we're taking. There are certain guys, their swings aren't very good right now."

Signage: The Phillies signed three pitchers to minor-league contracts, including Wayne Gomes, the team's first-round pick in the 1993 First-Year Player Draft. The other two were Julio Santana (released by Detroit) and Jose Cabrera (released by Minnesota).

Philling in: Former left fielder Greg Luzinski was named hitting coach for the Atlantic City Surf, joining manager and former closer Mitch Williams. ... Brett Myers will travel to Miami with the team to be part of his first Opening Day ceremonies, then leave in the fourth or fifth inning to return to Clearwater. He's scheduled to throw 75 or 80 pitches against Brandon Duckworth on Tuesday, then start on April 6 against Pittsburgh.

Coming up: The Phillies will work out Monday at Pro Player Stadium in Miami to prepare for Opening Day against the Marlins.

Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.



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